Personal Essay: Letter to my Lifeboat
From high school insecurities to post-university job search stress. To seeing you build the stable relationships and career you sought and deserve, to unpacking deep-seated issues written in our DNA. We’ve been drifting across oceans. Sometimes calm, sometimes a tropical storm. For over 15 years, we’ve taken turns manning the lifeboat, but this time your rescue really stood out to me.
It started with a Whatsapp call from my mother. “When are you going to get pregnant?” I usually manage to parry with an uncommitted “Maybe in the future.” but since the ticking of the biological clock has gotten louder, her questioning has become increasingly direct over the past year. I decided to make clear my decision to be childfree, but then came the guilt-trippy adage that childbearing is the only true way to fulfill my responsibilities as a woman, [insert further traditionalist misogyny and gaslighting here]. I refuted her claims as calmly as I could. “Yes, motherhood is a commitment and a sacrifice but there are other equally worthwhile pursuits. No, my husband is not going to leave me for a younger woman to have children with as you claim because we both agree about not wanting children”. Then came the real trigger: “You should have a child so you can have someone to talk to”.
My abuser was also a victim of child abuse and decided that having me was the band-aid to her unresolved issues. According to her, it is every child’s duty to be an unpaid counsellor for their parents as soon as they can comprehend spoken language. No friends can be trusted to keep a secret and why seek professional help when you have a child too paralysed by fear to question your emotional meltdowns?
I achieved five years of peace from my emotionally abusive mother by moving away to Thailand after marriage. But it seems these things have a way of coming back when you least expect it. The timing of the verbal attack could not have been worse - within a week of a COVID exposure scare from work, the mad rush to get tested during the shortage and the emotional fallout from cancelling a long-awaited Songkran scuba liveaboard trip.
Her call dredged up memories of her abuse like a crashing wave and I was struggling to keep my head above the water. I may be a strong swimmer after years of practice, but was already exhausted from treading water the whole week. Sleepless, I messaged you. And I was pulled back into the boat by the lifering you threw. Your empathetic and emphatic response:
“Eeeeewwwwwww [broken heart emoji]”
You’ve known me long enough to understand my sense of humour and I love you for it.
I miss you and it sucks that you’re so far away on a different continent. But for once, the time zones worked in our favour and you gave part of your day to drag me back on board. We talked about dark things, the different types of child abuse that afflicted our families and how the victims survived it. But that night, I slept soundly. Thank you.
I know we will have future battles to face, but I’m more than happy to face them with you just a message away. That night, we were so preoccupied with sharing about the sad things in life that I didn’t really get the chance to tell you how much I appreciate you.
I want you to know that I am proud of the person you’ve become and the life and relationships you’ve forged for yourself. I promise to be there as you and your partner start the legal proceedings to protect his son. I cannot wait for him to get the 50/50 custody, so you can share laughter, smiles and new parts of your lives together, uninterrupted and unapologetic. I know you’ll be by his side like we’re at each others’ and he is lucky to have you while he takes on the challenge. We will teach your partner creative, colourful English phrases to describe those who try to bring us down. The giggles fuel the boat. And I’ll be at the airport to greet you both when you finally come to visit when air travel is safe again.
We’ve led such separate lives over the years. You as a luk khreung. Me, a third culture kid. Those few years in high school the only time when two threads tangled before unravelling across the sea, only the occasional call or face-to-face meeting over the last decade.
Even if something unexpected happens and things don’t go as planned, I’ll be watching from the boat ready for the search and rescue. I won’t ever be a “real mom” or have a “real family” by my abuser’s definitions. But, as we like to say: “Fuck that shit!”. We’ve got each other, we’ve got a boat and it’ll be a happier and healthier family than the flaming oil slick she birthed me into.
To quote and interpret one of Amryl Johnson’s poems (Remember our Theatre Arts assignment for Gorgons?) “Sometimes you will lead and I will follow… Sometimes I will lead and you will follow”.
It’s been a long time since we were both IB Theatre Arts students worrying, laughing and learning in the rehearsal studio. Can’t wait to move with you in the studio again. HMU when you book that flight.
Much love and ttyl,
By Ms. S
Ms. S is a pole instructor and choreographer living in Bangkok. While pole dance is her passion, her day job involves research and education in the field of psychology and she has over 30 journal publications on mental health. You can follow her pole journey on Instagram at @ms.s.pole
Illustration by Blue Rachapradit
Blue is an aspiring illustrator, sometimes poet, living in Bangkok. She is the founder of The F Word art magazine and passionate about the intersection between arts and social activism. You can see more of her illustration as well as her poetry on Instagram at @thisbluecreature